SIOUX CITY -- Sarah Waldner's late grandfather, Carl, donated more than eight gallons of blood over his lifetime.
The 18-year-old West High School senior is following in his footsteps, donating a pint of blood about every four months. So far, Waldner, who aspires to become a pediatric nurse, has donated five pints of blood -- seven gallons and three pints away from her grandfather's record.
"I've known many people who've had to have blood products," Waldner said as she sat sideways on a donation chair at LifeServe Blood Center in Sioux City. "There is no replacement for human blood."
As regular donors age out of the donor pool, few young people like Waldner are stepping up to replace them. According to the American Association of Blood Banks, about 60 percent of blood donations are made by people over age 40 and three-quarters come from people older than 50.
Currently, Claire DeRoin, community relations coordinator for LifeServe, said only about 28 percent of LifeServe's donations come from people 24 and younger; and those between the ages of 25 and 39 account for just 20 percent of blood donations. LifeServe is the sole provider of blood to more than 120 hospitals in the tri-state region and all across Iowa.
"I'm not sure if it's something to do with the busy schedules that younger people seem to have with school activities and social engagements, or it has something to do with the fact that they personally haven't seen how important having blood on the shelf is," said DeRoin, who added people often discover as they age that they know someone who has had a blood or platelet transfusion after a cancer diagnosis, car crash or birth of a child. "We need those young people to start donating to replace the people who no longer can."
Waldner said she thinks the lack of young donors comes down to self-centeredness.
"They just don't care to think that someday they may need a blood product or their child may need a blood product or somebody they go to school with may need it," she said. "I don't think people realize how close to home it can be."
DeRoin said LifeServe, which offers scholarships to high school and college students who host blood drives, has increased its presence on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat and is holding block parties for the first time at its blood centers to reach out to young people.
Prospective donors are encouraged to stop by the Sioux City center, 4501 Southern Hills Drive, on Aug. 25 for a cookout and free blood typing from 7 a.m. to noon.
"It's a block party to raise awareness of our scholarship program," DeRoin said. "We're trying anything new that we can to see what sticks with the younger people."
Waldner, who said she loves to help people, initially thought she wouldn't be able to donate blood because she has Type 1 diabetes. She learned people who have their diabetes under control and are otherwise in good health can, in fact, donate.
Blood donors have to be at least 16 years old, weigh a minimum of 120 pounds and be in good health. There is no maximum age limit to give blood if you are healthy.
DeRoin said individuals who have had certain types of cancer or have traveled to areas of the world where malaria is common will have to wait a certain period of time before being cleared to donate. Infections, colds, certain heart problems, pregnancy and medications also affect your ability to donate. DeRoin said people who have tattoos often think they can't donate blood, which she said isn't the case.
"As long as you get those done at a licensed shop, you can donate the next day, which not a lot of people know," she said.
Drive to save lives
Waldner celebrated her 16th birthday giving blood for the very first time alongside 30 other people -- the overwhelming majority of whom were adults -- during a blood drive she hosted at Heartland Community Baptist Church.
Although Waldner didn't know exactly what to expect during and after the donation process, she said she wasn't the least bit intimidated. She thought about all the people her blood could help -- cancer patients, premature babies, car crash victims, organ transplant recipients and more.
"It's a lot easier than you would think it is," she said. "The nurses at LifeServe are very, very nice. They know how to keep you distracted and keep the process going, so you're not sitting there focusing on the needle in your arm or losing blood."
DeRoin said prospective donors should be sure to get a good night's sleep, hydrate and eat a light meal before coming to a LifeServe blood center or drive with their photo IDs. The screening process involves filling out a questionnaire detailing vaccination, health and recent travel history, as well as a "mini physical," where iron level, pulse and blood pressure is checked.
The actual blood donation, which is usually a pint, takes 5 to 10 minutes. After the donation, the blood is separated into three different components: red blood cells, plasma and platelets. DeRoin said water, orange juice and sweet and salty snacks are available for donors to replenish themselves.
Waldner will host her fourth blood drive Saturday at Heartland Community Baptist Church. She said free custard, chicken sandwiches and coffee cards are incentives that help encourage her peers to donate, but for Waldner, giving the gift of life is incentive enough.
"I just feel more alive, I guess," Waldner said of how she feels after giving blood. "I also feel accomplished. I know I'm helping someone."